Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2016 Preview – Ciclismo Internacional

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2016 Preview

By David Hunter

Ghent – Ghent 200.8km

For the traditionalists, this still marks the beginning of the season. I’m not one of them! What it does start is the gruelling races of the north. Time to get ready for cobbles, helling, wind, rain and crashes.

omloop 1

The race begins and finishes in Ghent. It dances around the nearby area, ensuring we see plenty of cobbles and climbs. Here is a list of them, in order:-

56.2km – Haaghoek 2km of cobbles

59.2km – Leberg 950m at 4.2%, max 13.8%

63.3km – Berendries 940m at 7%, max 12.3%

68.2km – Tenbosse 450m at 6.9%, max 8.7%

73.7km – Eikenmolen 610m at 5.9%, max 12.5%

85.6km – Muur van Geraardsbergen 1.1km at 8.7%, max 20%, all on cobbles.

103.3km – Valkenberg 540m at 8.1%, max 12.8%

112.1km – Haaghoek 2km of cobbles

121.9km – Kaperij 1km at 5.5%, max 9%

133.8km – Kruisberg 1.8km at 4.8%, max 9%, 450m on cobbles

138.5km – Donderij 800m of cobbles

—————————————————————————————————– This is where the race really begins!

143.4km – Taaienberg 530m at 6.6%, max 15.8%, 500m on cobbles. Although the gutter for most riders.

148.8km – Eikenberg 1.2km at 5.2%, max 10%, all on cobbles. Although there is a lot of pavement that can be used.

151.9km – Wolvenberg 645m at 7.9%, max 17.3%. This is the hardest climb.

152km – Ruiterstraat 800m of cobbles

153.3km – Karel Martelstraat 1.3km of cobbles, mostly on pavement.

154.7km – Holleweg 350m of cobbles

159.3km – Haaghoek 2km of cobbles

162.3km – Leberg 950m at 4.2%, max 13.8%

168.2km – Boembeke don’t have any official figures, but I’ve been told it’s easy.

170.3km – Paddestraat 2.3km of cobbles

173km – Lippenhovestraat 1.3km of cobbles

180km – Lange Munte 2.5km of cobbles

The race really begins as we approach the Taaienberg. The pace will be very high, as teams always want to be there first. As the whole peloton want to climb it in the gutter, the elastic is stretched. If you are in a bad position, it could be all over for you.

From that point onwards, the race can be won at any moment. That could be the hills, the cobbles or the open sections of road. There is no rhyme or reason, sometimes an attack sticks and sometimes it doesn’t. There is 4.3km of road between the cobbles of the Holleweg and Haaghoek, this is a very dangerous stretch of highway.

After the 3rd visit to the Haaghoek, followed by the Leberg, the peloton will be very small. The Haaghoek is an underestimated stretch of cobbles, it puts many riders into difficulty and immediately followed by the Leberg, this is a punishing section of the course. After this point, we are still 40km away from home, but the final selection could already have taken place.

Things don’t always work out this way. Look at the last two years, where Ian Stannard won on both occasions. In 2014, the winning move happened on normal roads, with around 20km to go. The pack was relatively small at this point, he and Van Avermaet timed their attacked to perfection. In 2015, he moved with 3 Etixx riders with 40km to go. We rarely get the same race twice, that’s what makes it such a wonderful event.

There are a few changes in 2016. A couple of climbs have been added, in the opening half, but the main difference is the final climb. It’s usually the Molenberg, but that cannot be used this year. Instead we have Boembeke. This will make a huge difference as the Molenberg was a really hard climb and the new one is very easy. Not only that, we have a new finish too. This is a harder end to the race, with an uphill sprint, that will really test the legs! It comes in at 300m at 3%. After a demanding race, that is a testy little finish.

Teammates help, as does being explosive, good on cobbles, fast in a sprint and lucky!

Riders who have already shown some form in previous races, have an advantage over the others. We have already had races in Australia, Argentina, Dubai, Qatar, Oman, Spain, France and Portugal. Plenty of opportunities for riders to get in some breaks and take some early stage success. In fact, 28 of the peloton have already stood on a podium in 2016. We have a very talented group of riders. I have picked out a few riders with good recent form:-

Oscar Gatto – winner of DDV in 2013. Has been in the wilderness for a few years, but now signed for Tinkoff and already back to winning ways. He took a strong win in Andalucía.

Tom Boonen – it was nice to see him sprinting in Valenciana, taking 4th on stage 3. This is the only real cobbled race that he hasn’t won.

Stijn Vandenbergh – took just his 3rd pro win in Valenciana. So strong, so big, so unlucky! All cycling fans would love to see him win.

Tony Martin – 2nd in the Algarve ITT. His addition for the cobbled races is thanks to his win in the TDF cobbled stage. Considering the size of his engine, he is a huge threat, at any point in the race.

Tiejs Benoot – 3rd in Mallorca and won the white jersey in Algarve. It’s already been a fine start to the season for the Belgian sensation. Made the initial crucial selection, in 2015, but was dropped when Vanmarcke put the hammer down. Still to win his 1st pro race.

Jens Debusschere – was 3rd on stage 4 in Algarve. He was a consistent threat in the 2015 classics, finishing 12th in Omloop, 7th in KBK, 8th in Flanders, 5th in GW and 9th in Paris-Roubaix. That marked a massive step forward for him and he really has put himself forward as team leader. He packs a very fast sprint, so no one will want to take him to the line. He is still underestimated by many teams.

Philippe Gilbert – took a great win in Murcia and was climbing extremely well in Andalucía. Same as 2015, he will focus on the Ardennes and not the cobbled classics, this weekend should be his only cobbled races. Still managed a strong 8th here in 2015, but goes in as a support rider for Van Avermaet. Given his current form, he could still challenge for the win.

Greg Van Avermaet – 3rd in Qatar and 3 podiums, so far, this season. It’s been a great start to 2016 but not a winning one. Threw away his chance of winning Omloop in 2014 and was a little unlucky in 2015. Such a talented rider, a big win is surely just around the corner.

Arnaud Demare – after a terrible 2015, Demare seems back to form, already winning in La Med. He was very active here in 2014, but unlucky, after Offredo crashed and destroyed the hopes of the late break. Such a talent, I really hope he is back to his best.

Dries Devenyns – another rider who seems to have had a good winter. Won GP Marseillaise and followed that up with 8th on Alto do Malhao. Word is, Devenyns is very thin just now, that could go against him in the cold north!

Alexander Kristoff – three wins in Qatar and two in Oman, safe to say he’s had a great start to 2016. Didn’t perform well here in 2015, with similar form, preferring to save his energy for KBK.

Jasper Stuyven – took 3rd place behind Kittel and Greipel in the opening stage of Algarve. The Belgian has long desired a crack at some of his home races, it looks like he’ll get that opportunity in 2016.

Sylvain Chavanel – won stage 3 of Besseges, a great start to the year. Has long been an underachiever in Belgian races, apart from De Panne, can he turn that around in the twilight of his career?

Not all of the favourites arrive with top form, it is the start of the season after all. Sagan, Roelandts, Le Bon, Keukeleire, Rowe, Theuns, Senechal and Vanbislen will all hope to be in the mix for the win.

Sagan is usually a strong rider, but with Gatto, the pressure is not all on the world champion. He has much bigger goals, a couple of weeks down the line. Keukeleire has constantly under-performed in these races. He has so much potential, but continues to get things wrong. At 27, he is no longer a youngster, he needs to deliver. With Hayman by his side, he has the ability to win.

Team Sky arrive without their defending champion. It really is a shame that Ian Stannard will not be back to try and win title number three. Instead, Luke Rowe, will get a rare chance of being the team leader. The Welshman is a strong domestique, but does he really posses the quality required to win? He was used as an attacking threat in 2015, allowing Stannard to get an easy ride at times. It will be fascinating to see if he can match the attacks from Etixx and Lotto.

It might be a new season, but it should be the same old fight. The two giants of Belgian cycling, look set to battle out the Belgian races in 2016. There are a few differences compared to recent seasons, Lotto being much stronger is of huge importance. Their squad has been poor in recent years, now they have Roelandts, Benoot and Debusschere. That gives them three attacking options, inside the final 40km. It really is a shame that Sieberg and Wallays have been rulled out, their pulling power will be missed.

They match up against Etixx, who have Boonen, Terpstra, Martin and Vandenbergh as their options inside the final 40km. So many different options gives Etixx a big advantage, it always does! They will ensure that they have representation in all the moves, inside the final 60km. They just keep dealing the cards, until they get a hand they like. Like in previous years, Boonen and Terpstra, will be plan A and B.

The only team who can match Etixx and Lotto are BMC. They have Oss, Drucker, Gilbert and Van Avermaet. I really do like Daniel Oss, such a willing worker. GVA has to be their prime pick, but he’s not the best tactician. If GVA is going to win, he’ll have to ride his luck.

Keep an eye out for Dimi Claeys. Regular readers will already know that I rate the new Wanty signing. His record in the Espoirs race is excellent: 3rd in 2012 and winners in 2013 and 2014. It will be interesting to see where he attacks, hopefully he is given some freedom and doesn’t have to ride for Marcato.

Oliver Naesen is another name you should get used to. Recently left Topsport to join IAM. He lives in the area and finished 31st, on debut, in 2015. With Devenyns and Haussler in his team, he will have to work for others, but he certainly is a rider who could finish in the top 10.

Prediction Time

The race begins on the Taaienberg. Whoever hits the front, hopefully Boonen, will cause a selection. From that point, it starts to get very tactical. The Wolvenberg slims it down even more, before the final visit to the Haaghoek. It should be even more important in 2016, with the omission of the Molenberg.

Etixx are the still the masters but I do like what Lotto bring, they have pace and power. Unless up against Boonen, their three attackers will out-sprint their Etixx counterparts. That should force Etixx into a very attacking race. They know that no one can move with Terpstra on the cobbles. A massive Terpstra attack, on the Haaghoek, has to be on the cards.

If you ride for a smaller team, wait till that moment, and try to follow. If any break is to succeed, it must contain two Etixx riders! There is no point wasting your energy if the break lacks an Etixx rider, they will bring you back. Stay near the front and wait for the move of Terpstra. The only problem is being able to follow his wheel.

I really do see it being a battle between Etixx and Lotto. How it actually plays out is anyone’s guest. The other squads will hope to get their main rider into the selection, but that isn’t easy. If we do get a sprint, there are plenty of quick riders:- Boonen, Debusschere, Kristoff, Haussler, Sagan, Demare, Hofland, Stuyven and co! In normal races, the amount of sprinters would guarantee the type of race we get. Omloop is no normal race!

I will narrow it down to three: Terpstra, Benoot and Van Avermaet.

After the mess of 2015, Etixx to get it right and win with Terpstra.

David Hunter

Follow us on @CiclismoInter

Join us on facebook: Ciclismo Internacional

Copyright © 2016 Ciclismo Internacional. All Rights Reserved

Facebook IconTwitter IconMi BlogMi Blog

Discover more from Ciclismo Internacional

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading